I recently read a great article from Kevin Carlson author of the blog ecommerce vagabond entitled Retailers: Stop whining and Start embracing showrooming. My thoughts exactly I said!
Carlson discusses a recent article from Barney Jopson of the Financial Times within which Jopson laments the difficult decisions currently facing brick-and-mortar retailers with regards to showrooming behaviour. For years consumers have been using the Internet to research products before making a visit to their local store to actually try the product out and purchase it. Now, as Carlson states, the tables have turned. Consumers have done a complete U-turn and today use their local shops to carry out their research. Your traditional brick-and-mortar shop is finding, more and more, that consumers are coming into their shop to find the right size or model then going home and purchasing the product online, often at a hugely discounted price. However, it is not just the price that is alluring to consumers, it is the convenience of today’s online shopping experience.
The sophistication of some e-commerce stores, such as John Lewis, offer consumers the same quality of service as their physical store from the convenience of their sofa. Paul Coby, IT director at John Lewis, knows that only the best will do. In a recent article by stores.org, he said of consumers that ‘they expect to be connected anyplace, anytime, anywhere. Being connected gives them options and choices and puts them in charge- so that’s the environment we need to provide’. Currently, we seem to be in a blame culture; rather than accepting the change and embracing a new style of retailing a lot of retailers appear to be blaming customers for the shift in consumer behaviour, rather than their management for failing to react to it effectively. However, one organisation that is definitely embracing the change is John Lewis.
Over the last 24 months, Coby and his team have been overhauling the organisations online business and investing heavily in logistics, distribution centres, and in-store technology. This once traditional department store is now releasing innovative new shop formats and multiple delivery options in what can only be described as a strong and fully comprehensive uptake of the digital age. It has understood the shift in consumer behaviour and is planning heavily for its future in this area. The unprecedented success of this new strategy can be seen in the numbers; despite many European retailers suffering loses and some entering administration in the last year overall John Lewis’ sales and profits were up. This can only be attributed to their bricks-and-clicks initiatives, this robust multi-channel strategy is allowing the retailer to continue driving customer loyalty and gain market share from its competitors across a wide range of categories.
According to Coby, the key to successful omnichannel retailing is no great secret. He goes on to describe the omnichannel customer as one who wants to ‘see, feel and experience a product before buying online or vice versa’; this is where the showrooming comes in. The omnichannel shopper wants to ‘buy a few styles of the same product and know that they can return what doesn’t work. Or they are consumers who crave the convenience of buying an item online and picking it up somewhere close to home the next day’.
Of course, it is much easier for an established and respected retailer to do this than a start-up. However, it is clear that the high street as we know it is changing and I am in full agreement with Carlson; retailers out there who still believe that having an online presence isn’t necessary to need to wake up, and fast. As to whether showrooming is the future of retailing, I am not sure, but it is something we all need to be aware of.